American flag is easily recognizable – 13 stripes and 50 stars are one of the best known national symbols in the world. However, you might have noticed that flag patches on the US Army uniforms seem to look a bit different – stars are facing forward. But why? Why flags on uniforms seem to be a mirror image of what we are used to seeing?
First of all, we have to establish of what a flag is. Of course, it is a national symbol, but it is also a physical object, defined by law. It is a big sheet of material, designed to be affixed to some sort of a pole (the mast) on one side. In the case of the American flag, it is supposed to be tied to a pole on the side that has stars. Again – this is defined by law. However, the flag doesn’t have an obverse and reverse sides. It all depends on your position to the flag flying in the wind. It only has top and bottom, because wind cannot overturn the flag once it’s tied to the mast.
And so there are no good or bad sides of a flag – it is two sided and only wind decides which side you are seeing. The only fixed position is the mast itself. On the other hand, laws are also saying that the mast edge of the side should be depicted on the left whenever the flag is printed or drawn in a two dimensional image. This is why we are used to seeing the US flag with its stars on the top left corner. So why are uniforms so bizarrely different?
Well, it all has to do with symbolism. Flags used to be carried to every battle. Once you start charging forward, the flag starts flying back away from the mast. And this is what that mirrored flag on military uniforms represent – always moving forward. However, thinking that the flag is facing the wrong way (or is backwards), is incorrect – flags don’t have good and bad sides. Unless, of course, something is written on them, which is not the case with the US flag.
This symbol is really well represented on planes that are marked with the US flag. If you look at the left side of the plane, the flag will look completely normal. However, if you look at the right side of the same aircraft, it will have its stars turned to the right – just like on uniforms. And it’s all just because that’s how the flag would look like if you would be holding it and moving forward.